Release: Friday, June 17, 2016 (limited)
Written by: Jon Watts; Christopher D. Ford
Directed by: Jon Watts
Jon Watts’ body horror film, a production slotted directly between his much-acclaimed debut thriller Cop Car and his shot at making Spider-Man cool again (again) is simple and direct. Unfortunately Clown is so stripped down it pretty much fails to register at all, wasting a perfectly good transformation and concept in the process.
Icky but emotionally inert story features a loving father, Kent (Andy Powers), rescuing his son’s birthday party by putting on a clown costume he finds in storage when the paid entertainment fails to show. Kent begins exhibiting strange behavior after several failed attempts at removing the suit hours after the party reveal that it might not be a suit at all. As the story progresses we watch as Kent becomes subjected to a horrific physical transformation that his wife Meg (Laura Allen) is helpless to do anything about. Son Jack (Christian Distefano) is left wondering if this is all his fault. Eh, . . . it . . . kind of is . . . but hey, the poor kid had no idea daddy had just found demon skin in the garage.
While gritty effects work make Kent’s ordeal a little difficult to watch at the best of times, the overall concept fails to scare or really entertain. More problematic than anything else is that the effectiveness of said horror is predicated upon how strongly the actors deliver the goods. The concept is so simple that it all but demands heavy doses of humanity to get us to a place where we feel saddened by the radical changes. Instead we get cardboard cut-outs of characters who give estimates with their emotional responses. It doesn’t help that Allen’s role as a freaked out housewife boils down to ‘well, do I want my husband back or do I euthanize him?’
This particular clown comes complete with its own shaky, unconvincing mythology, the bulk of which is delivered by Peter Stormare‘s tacked-on supporting role as Herbert Karlsson, brother to Dr. Martin Karlsson, a cancer treatment specialist who designed the suit to entertain his young patients. Where the mythology falls apart is in trying to piece together how a Patch Adams get-up suddenly becomes the skin and hair of a child-eating demon. (There’s some nonsense about a malevolent spirit called the ‘Cloyne,’ or something.) This is the kind of logical gap that tends to cripple horror films, and that certainly is true of Clown as the story limps toward a thoroughly predictable and uninspired climax. A climax that merely proves whether that fucking suit will come off or not.
Clown never reaches the heights of what its admittedly twisted visuals hint toward. It never really comes close. Even when the true horror is revealed everything feels low-budget and in the worst way possible. Tonally Clown is unsure of itself, with comedic moments arising quite unintentionally — I highly doubt the whole episode with ripping off the red shiny nose was designed for yucks, unlike an earlier scene in which we see Kent, who is a realtor, stumbling onto another work site dressed still as a clown. No, at the moment of nose- and hair-rippage we’ve left the comedy well behind. Again, in theory.
I look at Jon Watts’ direction in the same way I do the simplicity of Tom Petty songs. That’s not necessarily good for Watts. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have operated for years with one simple motto that has helped their success endure: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” Watts takes this philosophy to heart, sacrificing relationship-building for a quick, easy payoff. It doesn’t work.
Recommendation: Body horror film fails to creep audiences out in any significant way. Despite the premise revolving around one of the creepiest things imaginable — clowns — the mythology behind this one clown suit is laughably poor and uninteresting. Not a film to flock to for performances. Nor memorable storylines. It has some good, bloody effects but that’s about all I can recommend about Jon Watts’ Clown.
Running Time: 100 mins.
Quoted: “Jack, you have to kill your daddy.”
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